Sunday, March 6, 2011

Murder and Stealing

In Japan, I often pause to think about crime.  Why is Japan's crime rate so low?  Why, looking on from Japan, does the USA seem so dangerous to me? 

Japan has one of the lowest murder rates in the world, hovering in the best 10 countries.  I say hovering because these numbers are subject to so many variables that an exact figure could never be reached. 

The United States, disturbingly, sits amidst a bunch of Eastern European countries and far below any developed country that you would usually hear associated with the USA.     

The concept of murder seems a little like star gazing to me.  I can look and see and talk about it, but it's a little incomprehensible.  Though one be dark and one beautiful, they both cause people to intensely feel.  For this reason, I'd rather ponder theft.  Stealing is easier to wrap the mind around.

People have stolen many things from me, the most notable thefts including the radar detector out of my car, the purse out of my hands, the camera off of my lounge chair, and the money out of my wallet.    People have used my credit cards.  I've had to walk home in spaghetti straps in 40F weather when my jacket was stolen.  I have lost thousands of dollars in damages, goods, and cash.  Come to think of it, I've had a lot of things stolen.

Truly, I haven't lived here very long, but in Japan I have never had anything stolen, despite forgetting my camera on a bus and making some other silly mistakes I don't care to mention.  I know people who have had their bikes stolen here.  I have heard that in Japan people will steal bikes and umbrellas, but your money is safe.  I never see police officers.  Seriously, I could count the number of police officers on my two hands  that I've seen in this seven month period.

I do think it's different here.  Yesterday, I saw a woman leave her purse gaping open on a Starbucks table, reserving her spot as she ordered.  It's common for people to leave their shoes and other items outside of their hotel rooms overnight.   The students don't have locks on their lockers and they don't lock their bikes up at school.

It seems like Japan and the US are just continuing as they always have.  In Japan, people just never stole from each other, as a general rule, so that behavior remains.  In the United States, the people have been thieves from the moment they stepped on the soil.  Americans have always taken what they wanted despite just about anything they had to do to get it.  Stealing has been a way of life for Americans and their descendants for hundreds of years.  It's like thieving is in our blood.   

I was alone in the teacher's room.  I was going to take a cookie from the coffee club table while everyone was out at their meeting.  I was on my way to do the deed, but I stopped, and I decided that none of these people would take anything from me, and that if I asked they would give me the whole bag of cookies, and I sat back down.  If I were in the US I would've done it. 

There's no denying that you are affected by the people you are around, which is why parents are careful about who their children's friends are.  It seems the same concept is at work here in Japan on a nationwide scale.  I would never consider stealing money out of a forgotten purse, as happened to me.  I would never give my rival a blanket infested with smallpox.  If I worked with a bunch of felons, would I steal a cookie from their break table?  And does the degree of the crime make it different?  It makes me think.  There is a Simpson's episode where they steal cable, and they have second thoughts about it until they read the pamphlet offered to them about how stealing cable is ok because the cable company is a faceless corporation and cable theft is a victimless crime.  Stealing was ok because of the identity of the victim.  I didn't leave the coffee club cookies alone because it's wrong to steal.  I left them alone because of who they belonged to.  Does that make me a bad person?  What would you do, and why? 

At Mos Burger a few weeks back, a Japanese acquaintance of ours was working.  We went in for dinner and wanted a BBQ sauce.  Our friend of a friend charged Peter the 10 yen for the sauce.  I can't imagine being charged for extra sauce in the US whether it was company policy or not, and certainly not by a friend.  People here are just very honest.

Whatever makes Japan have a low crime rate has worked it's magic on me, too.  The cookies are safe. 

From Japan,


Anonymous said...

Interesting. However, you forget to balance their societal merits with some major flaws. Japan is notorious for the Yakuza, high suicide rate, xenophobia, and Lolita Complex. Don't get me wrong. Japan is great but be sure to look at the whole picture.

Anonymous said...

Most of the crime is not reported too.

Anonymous said...

I don't think she forgot anything- the post is very specifically about theft. It's even in the title.
Rape and domestic violence have low reporting rates, for a number of reasons. That does not mean that "most of the crime" is not reported.

Anonymous said...

As a matter of principle, theft is not recognised as a legitimate activity of Yakuza. However, there is a lot of hidden crimes in the form of blackmailing, bribery, sexual exploitation, and illegal gambling.